20 Jun 2021

Jamie Christon, CEO at Chester Zoo, said:

“You may have seen media reports this week on the topic of elephants in zoos. This is a discussion that’s surfaced a few times before and on this occasion has been sparked by the release of a report which cites outdated information, calling for elephants to be phased out of zoos.

What is very clear though, is that the authors of the report had not visited a charitable conservation-based zoo like ours prior to its publication, as the report draws on outdated information and refers to practices which simply do not take place in modern UK zoos. It also highlights a number of things to improve welfare standards for elephants that we’ve actually been implementing many years – and already forms part of zoo best practice guidelines. If anything, the bar the report sets is quite low. We pursue world class standards of animal care and have been exceeding what’s in the report for a long, long time. As a centre of excellence for elephant care and conservation, we’re 100% committed to our vital efforts to prevent the extinction of elephants, through the tremendous work we carry out here in Chester with the herd, as well as with our projects overseas.

The conservation community has, in recent times, also been provided assurances by the Minister for Zoos that the Government has no intention to ban the care of elephants in modern zoos in the UK – which would quickly undo decades of work to conserve these highly threatened species.

For many years now there has been close collaboration between the Elephant Welfare Group (EWG), the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), and the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), who have been evaluating the highly specialist and scientific care given to elephants for a decade-long independent report – the most thorough and robust ever undertaken – which is due to be published by the government later this year. We have been contributing to this report and we’ll welcome its findings and recommendations, which will be based on current zoo practices and up-to-date information.

Conservationists at Chester have been at the very forefront of these advancements, pioneering new practices to further improve the welfare for elephants in zoos, sanctuaries and in the wild. This includes becoming the first UK zoo to have a multi-generational family herd, successfully utilising protective contact between elephants and keepers, and spearheading vital new research on behalf of the global conservation community to find a viable vaccine for a deadly virus that affects elephants in zoos and the wild, known as EEHV.

Elephants are one of the world’s most charismatic species, but are also highly threatened and under huge pressures in the wild. Poaching, habitat loss, disease and conflict with humans have decimated their numbers and populations in the wild are rapidly decreasing, while also becoming more and more fragmented.

In a world where a million animal and plant species are in decline, zoos today are crucial to finding positive solutions for wildlife – whether that’s precious tiny snails, beautiful orchids, stunning songbirds or majestic Asian elephants. Conservation charities must now work together for the benefit of wildlife in finding the best way forward that will ultimately prevent extinction.”

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